On Cashiers and College Degrees

Jul 6, 2011 by

Jason Fertig – I read David Leonhardt’s NY Times article, “Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off” hoping to find a new argument that defends college-for-all, but instead I found a collage of “same-ol same-ol,” non sequiturs, and cheap shots on the critics of sending more students to college.

In his article, Mr. Leonhardt quotes the latest statistics on the return on investment for college degrees:

The Hamilton Project, a research group in Washington, has just finished a comparison of college with other investments. It found that college tuition in recent decades has delivered an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent. For stocks, the historical return is 7 percent. For real estate, it’s less than 1 percent.

Another study being released this weekend — by Anthony Carnevale and Stephen J. Rose of Georgetown — breaks down the college premium by occupations and shows that college has big benefits even in many fields where a degree is not crucial.

I cannot argue straight facts. Researchers can produce study after study that shows a positive relationship between years of education and income. But correlation does not equal caus



ation. As any Statistics 101 student (hopefully) learns, the numbers only tell part of the tale – the real story is in the explanation. For Mr. Leonhardt, his explanations earn a “high risk revise and resubmit” from this academic. Here are some points that need work:

The argument [of college-for-all] has the lure of counterintuition and does have grains of truth. Too many teenagers aren’t ready to do college-level work. Ultimately, though, the case against mass education is no better than it was a century ago. The evidence is overwhelming that college is a better investment for most graduates than in the past. A new study even shows that a bachelor’s degree pays off for jobs that don’t require one: secretaries, plumbers and cashiers. And, beyond money, education seems to make people happier and healthier.

Mr. Leonhardt, be very careful with the written word. These statements may receive head nodding at a cocktail party; but when read, the flaws are apparent.

If too many teenagers aren’t ready to do college-level work, why should they go to college? Perhaps they should receive a proper remedial education to get them up to speed and then attend college because there are supposed benefits that they can gain. But that point is not found anywhere in the NY Times article.

via NAS – The National Association of Scholars :: Articles and Archives On Cashiers and College Degrees Jason Fertig.

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